For all intents and purposes, NieR: Automata looks to be more of a spiritual successor to the 2010 sleeper gem, NieR, rather than an outright sequel. Where the bulk of the original game took place in the year 3361, Automata (or the demo, at least) begins nearly 8000 years later, in 11945. The gameplay of Automata - one of the main selling points of vanilla NieR - seems to take all that worked in the first game and make it even better.
The gameplay basics offer fairly standard hack-and-slash fare, with quick-but-weak normal attacks, slow-but-strong special attacks, and aerial strikes to bring the pain from above. Additionally, the protagonist (a feminine combat android called 2B) is assisted by a Pod robot that shoots rapid-fire bullets at your foes. Returning fans from the first game will recognize pods as essentially being the battle equivalent of Grimoire Weiss, a mystical book that floated beside the protagonist and fired off powerful energy and magic attacks.
While it’s always nice to have ranged attacks, the pods are most effective when you enter specific areas that change your camera perspective to a top-down view, with enemies spawning from every which way, all firing a flurry of energy attacks at 2B. That’s right, this hack-and-slash RPG is littered with bullet-hell segments. It is unexpected to blend these genres, but NieR: Automata pulls it off flawlessly. Whenever you enter a bullet-hell room the camera pans out instantly, then snaps back to a third-person view when you move on. These moments don’t overstay their welcome, but they do an excellent job of breaking up the hack-and-slash bulk.
Everything about NieR: Automata is drenched in robots, androids, and other automatons. The demo features boss fights against deadly spiked wheels with dump truck scoops all around them, ally droids that follow a similar numbering system to our playable 2B (9S appears in the demo, but others on the roster include 1D, 7E, 4B, 11B, and 12H), and enemies that look like someone brought a scrap metal heap to life. It certainly sets the tone for the adventure to come, and shows the game’s subtitle of Automata as quite apt.
There is still great mystery surrounding the story of the full game, and there’s no information about any specific antagonist yet in the demo; no word as to who has brought these machines to life, or why 2B and the gang need to bring them down.
The biggest mystery of all so far is, in fact, the demo’s finale. For those avoiding spoilers, you’d best look away now.
After you bring down the boss in an exciting fight involving ripping the giant machine’s arm off and beating it up with its own appendage while flying around in a powerful mech, a cutscene plays that shows several more of this kind of enemy rising up, ready to destroy the already bruised and beaten 2B and 9S. After a heartfelt goodbye, the android allies trigger a massive explosion, decimating everything in the immediate vicinity before the screen fades to a “thanks for playing!” image, promoting NieR: Automata’s March 10th release date.
Often times demos are just a sample of the full game, usually not being a direct part of the game itself, but rather a special build specifically made to show off the best aspects of the game. In this case, however, director Yoko Taro has teased that this demo takes place near the beginning of the full game, leaving the player to wonder how exactly these two main characters (if the game’s promotional materials are anything to go by) survive the blast’s destruction.
In short, NieR: Automata’s demo hits all the marks: it’s got smooth and varied gameplay, a world full of robots, and an intriguing plot with plenty of mysteries to be solved. Look forward to playing the full game when it launches exclusively for the PlayStation 4 on March 10.